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TBTF for 1998-04-13: A blushing crow

Keith Dawson ( dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Sun, 12 Apr 13:44:02 -0400


Contents


Microsoft news

bul Microsoft buys Firefly

The latest victim, or beneficiary, of the Redmond vacuum cleaner is the 2-year-old Cambridge company founded by MIT and Media Lab professor Pattie Maes. Firefly's 70-odd Cambridge employees (but not Maes) will relocate to Redmond. The price was reported to be $40M, but both companies have disputed this. Firefly [1] developed intelligent agent software for managing the exchange of users' personal information, and is a driver of the World Wide Web Consortium's privacy initiative, P3P [2]. Firefly is also involved in the ICE initiative [3], an industry consortium working on protocols for Web sites to talk among themselves.

Privacy advocates are less than universally overjoyed with the acquisition [4]. As Need To Know 's anti-news column succinctly put it:

Bill Gates buys Firefly: I don't remember putting that in my preferences.
blushing crow Another loser may be Netscape; the company has been working with Firefly on a P3P plugin for Communicator 5. Wired [5] finds an informant to opine that the purchase deals a blushing crow [6] to the company's Net commerce plans. I'm not convinced that Netscape's plans are as fragile as this story makes out. After all they just enlisted 10,000 new developers to work on Communicator 5.
[1] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-11-12.html#s10
[2] http://w3c.org/P3P/
[3] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-02-09.html#s05
[4] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,20940,00.html?pfv
[5] http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/11611.html
[6] http://www.comlab.ox.ac.uk/oucl/users/sharon.curtis/Humour/...

bul Spin-control plan spins out of control

On Friday the Los Angeles Times broke the story [7] of Microsoft's large-scale, stealth campaign to influence public opinion in states threatening legal action against the company. It makes fascinating reading. The Times says, "Even in the modern world of corporate spin control, the proposed plan is unusual in its scope, tactics, and targets." The campaign is being choreographed by Microsoft's PR firm Edelman Public Relations. It is designed to appear not as a major campaign by Microsoft or Edelman, but as an upwelling of grass-roots support. When told of the planned campaign, the Michigan Attorney General said: "I've been battling this type of PR gimmickry for a long time, and I can smell it 40 yards away. Bill Gates would have been better off if he or one of his representatives had picked up the phone and called me."

[7] http://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/BUSINESS...

bul Settling for "palm-size"

Microsoft caved in the trademark lawsuit filed by 3Com [8], agreeing to change the name of its handheld computers from "Palm PCs" to "Palm-size PCs" [9].

[8] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-09.html#s10
[9] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,20921,00.html?pfv

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NSF's $45M fund is illegal

Refunds coming? Don't hold your breath

On Wednesday a federal judge ruled [10], [11] that the $30 "Intellectual Infrastructure Fund" fee paid as a part of every domain name registration until this month had been illegally collected. He dismissed nine other counts against NSI, including the claim that it is an illegal monopoly. The plaintiffs will get refunds of their $30 fees; whether the rest of us do will hinge on a determination of class-action status in the case. This could take as long as six months. The ruling noted that even at this late date the fund could be made legitimate by an act of Congress.

[10] http://www.techweb.com/news/story/domnam/TWB19980409S0010
[11] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,20930,00.html?pfv

______

Mozilla runs free

Netscape releases the source code for Communicator 5, and the nerds jump on it

As promised [12], on the morning of March 31 Netscape released the source code for Communicator 5. At 10:00 Pacific time a link [13] appeared on the top page of mozilla.org reading:

Looking for this?
The company has set up 101 mirror sites [14] around the world to support tens of thousands of downloads of a package weighing in at 9 MB on Unix, and nearly 12 MB on Windows and Macintosh.

The earliest reports said the source compiled cleanly on Linux and worked well with Motif. Later came news of buggy code [15], but most developers felt that Netscape had played fair about the condition of the pre-alpha code.

Within hours of the release an Australian-led outfit called the Mozilla Crypto Group [16] has put the crypto back in Netscape's browser [17]. Netscape had removed Communicator's crypto code before releasing it in order to comply with US export laws. A pre-release binary for Linux is available here [18] (2755K).

These two tidbits come courtesy of slashdot.org [19]: a screen shot [20] of "Mozilla Navigator 5.0b1," and a photo [21] from the launch event. The caption for the latter reads

The main three people in this picture are Jim Barksdale, Jamie [Zawinski], and Tara Hernandez. Tara is manager of the build team. Just to the left of JimB is Jim Roskind, who led the Java-ectomy.
Zawinski has honchoed this source release. His URL [22] is surely one of the coolest on the planet (don't try this with Internet Explorer). Zawinski closed his release message to the mozilla.general mailing list with:
PS: if you try to understand NET-GetURL your head will explode.
[12] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-01-26.html#s03
[13] http://www.mozilla.org/download.html
[14] http://www.mozilla.org/mirrors.html
[15] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19980407S0005
[16] http://mozilla-crypto.ssleay.org
[17] http://mozilla-crypto.ssleay.org/press/19980401-02/index.html
[18] ftp://mirror.aarnet.edu.au/pub/mozilla-crypto/cryptozilla-linux-0.1pre.gz
[19] http://www.slashdot.org/
[20] http://ariel.slashdot.org/slashdot/aux/mozilla.gif
[21] http://ariel.slashdot.org/slashdot/aux/jimandteam.jpg
[22] about:jwz

______

No "modem tax," again, yet

ISPs and Net telephony providers not required to pay into universal service fund

Like a game of Slap a Spice Girl [23], the so-called modem tax keeps popping up and getting whacked. Proposals that the FCC impose "universal service" charges on ISPs have been raised and dismissed on several occasions since 1995 (here's one from last year [24]), and rumors that the FCC is contemplating such a charge are common enough to qualify as an urban legend [25].

At the urging of telephone companies, two congressmen had asked the FCC to re-examine its ruling that ISPs are exempt from the charges paid directly by local phone companies and indirectly by long-distance companies to subsidize US rural and low-income phone service. The telcos want to clip the wings of the nascent Internet telephony business. The new companies lobbied hard, writing a letter to the Vice President to say a new tax would "threaten to extinguish the private investment that makes these services possible" [26]. In turn the Clinton administration urged the FCC "to do nothing that would thwart the growth and vibrancy of the Internet." On Friday the FCC ruled [27] that ISPs are still to be classified as "information service providers" immune from the access charge. The ruling also classified Net telephony providers under the same rubric, but left open the possibility that the agency might mandate access charges in the future [28].

[23] http://www.urban75.com/Punch/spicebelt.html
[24] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,10361,00.html?pfv
[25] http://www.urbanlegends.com/classic/modem_tax.html
[26] http://www.techweb.com/news/story/0398spot/TWB19980410S0026
[27] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19980410S0025
[28] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,20984,00.html?pfv

______

Soft postage

Print your own stamps on envelopes

The U.S. Postal Service is beta testing the first electronic stamps [29], which it calls "information-based indicia," based on technology from E-Stamp Corp [30]. Initial testing in the Washington, DC area will be followed by San Francisco and Tampa, Florida. IBIs are paid for and downloaded over the Net, then printed onto an envelope or label along with a recipient's address. IBIs are two-dimensional encrypted barcodes that look like this [31]. The IBI is stored in a small dongle-like hardware device that attaches to a PC's printer port. E-Stamp is available for Win95, Win98, and NT only. It is expected to replace postage metering machines and will cost somewhere in the hundreds of dollars, reading between the lines on E-Stamp's site.

[29] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,20646,00.html?pfv
[30] http://www.e-stamp.com/
[31] http://www.e-stamp.com/images/envelope.gif

______

104 Windows NT vulnerabilities

Everything you ever wanted to know about security holes, for a price

Risks 19.65 [32] carries a notice from Shake Communications Pty Ltd [33], an Australian security firm, advertising their subscription-based vulnerabilities database. They claim to list over 3,000 known security holes, updated daily, with solutions where available, on 33 OSs, 44 applications, and 74 OS commands. Shake claims to list 104 known vulnerabilities in the NT operating system, but to see the details you need to subscribe to their database, which costs AU $3750 for a 6-month subscription, or US $2522 [34]. Shake's competition consists mostly of free vulnerability databases. For example, the ISS X-Force database [35] lists 52 vulnerabilities for Win95/NT; it is searchable and you can retrieve details of any vulnerability.

[32] http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/19.65.html#subj4
[33] http://www.shake.net/
[34] http://www.yi.com/home/BerensJean-Claude/currency.htm
[35] http://www.iss.net/xforce/

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Quick Bits

A little maze of twisty items, all different

bul New international version of PGP is available

Windows and Macintosh binaries of PGP 5.5.3i are now available for download here [36].

[36] http://www.pgpi.com/

bul Java news ticker

This modest and useful service comes from the folks at the 7 AM News [37]. Put the following code on any Web page of your choosing and your visitors will (if running with Java enabled) see a rotating ticker of clickable news items. You can choose from USA, antipodal, or world news, either general or Net-flavored.

  <APPLET CODE="sevenAMNewsTicker.class"
    CODEBASE="http://www.7am.com/java"
    WIDTH=450 HEIGHT=15>
  <PARAM NAME="channels" VALUE="+USAnetnews +WORLDnetnews ">
  <PARAM NAME="target" VALUE="_blank">
  </APPLET>
[37] http://www.7am.com/ticker/

bul Buffeted about

In TBTF for 1998-03-30 [39] you read of possible trouble when the Dow Jones Average breaks into five figures. Risks for 1998-04-02 [40] brings news of another overflow problem, this one already spotted in the wild by Frank Markus <fmarkus at pipeline dot com>. Berkshire Hathaway stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway's chairman, for his own reasons has chosen never to split the stock or to pay dividends. Berkshire Hathaway has done famously well over the years, with the result that its stock now trades at $60,000.00 per share. Newspapers can't list it and online portfolio services can't deal with it.

[39] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-03-30.html#s08
[40] http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/19.65.html#subj11


Notes

bul The Reverend William Archibald Spooner, Warden of New College, Oxford from 1903 to 1924, probably didn't emit the first Spoonerism. But he did lend his name to the business beginning about 1885, according to the OED [41] (those without an OED account may visit [42]). Wayne Baisley <baisley at fnal dot gov> has one of the better Spoonerism pages on the Web [43], with links to a number of others.

[41] http://proto.oed.com/cgi-bin/oedp?dictcolor=color&format=Table+Display&q...
[42] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/oed-defs.html
[43] http://www-oss.fnal.gov/~baisley/spooners.html


Sources

bul For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see http://www.tbtf.com/sources.html.


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Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
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